Star Farm Visit
On Thursday July 7th , against the backdrop of a near perfect Chicago sky the Alliance for Health Equity Food Workgroup and the Good Food in Healthcare Cohort visited Star Farm, a non-profit urban farm located in Chicago’s Back of The Yards neighborhood. In addition to the Alliance for Health Equity team, representatives from Chicago and Suburban Cook County partner hospitals and organizations were also in attendance.
The visit to the farm was inspired by conversations with local growers and producers as part of the Alliance for Health Equity’s food is medicine research. These growers and producers spoke about the importance of connecting farms to food is medicine programs at local hospitals and healthcare systems and sharing ways hospitals and healthcare systems could support them in addressing the barriers they face. The farm visit was the ideal opportunity for healthcare organizations to also learn how to sustainably contribute to the efforts of local urban farms in their mission to supply fair access to nourishing food. An added bonus was that many of our partners were excited to finally be able to safely meet in person while enjoying the outdoors during a beautiful Chicago summer day.
Star Farm has a strong presence in Chicago’s urban growing space through supplying resources and programs to their communities and in supporting other local farms as an aggregator and distributor. Star Farm’s focus on food access through food sovereignty is in close alignment with the Alliance’s Food Action Agenda. They also have well-established partnerships with local hospitals and healthcare systems, including Swedish Covenant Hospital and Insight Hospital and Medical Center, which made them an amazing partner for our first farm visit.
The staff at Star Farm, particularly Stephanie Dunn, Rocio Vargas, Guadalupe Garcia, and Cornelius Hodges Jr., were incredibly warm and welcoming. Our visit began with breakfast baked goods, coffee and gift bags. Following refreshments, we had the opportunity to hear from our enthusiastic farm hosts. Farmer and program associate Cornelius provided insight on how programing like garden builds for example not only helps those interested in growing but also aids in promoting awareness throughout the community at-large.
Guadalupe, an extremely knowledgeable farmer, and community outreach associate during the farm tour explained how the farm uses creative ways to grow the plants together to maximize water usage, composting challenges in the city, and how the farm manages income flow during Chicago’s brutal winters by growing micro greens and offering jarred jams and pickled vegetables harvested in the season prior.
After the farm tour, Star Farm’s founder and director, Stephanie, answered partner questions and detailed the complex logistical dance of managing distribution for small urban farmers across the region to enable them access to buyers they would not otherwise have. As explained by Stephanie, the greatest challenge facing urban growers today outside of funding is access to land and water. In addition to supporting farms like Star Farm by purchasing, fundraising, supporting programing and special events, hospitals and healthcare systems can advocate for policy changes that support local growers. Policies that incentivize reimbursement for food is medicine programs, improve land and water access, and provide financial reparations for historically excluded Indigenous and Black farmers can grow the mission and the fundamental right of access to nourishing food for all of society.
During the visit, we hoped to not only learn about how we can connect our hospital and healthcare system partners to Star Farm’s programs, but also to name the diverse ways healthcare partners can support farms in addressing barriers around land and water access, certifications, and sustainable funding. We also wanted to show to our Alliance partners how easy it is to visit a local farm, buy food locally, and share in the experience of growing food. The Alliance hopes that more hospitals and healthcare systems will see urban farms not only as a source of food for local procurement but also as a space of healing and community building for their clients and patients.
We’d like to extend immense gratitude to Star Farm staff for graciously hosting us and to our hospital and healthcare system partners who were able to attend the visit. We hope to plan more visits to Chicago’s urban farms in the future. If you have a grower or organization in mind or would like to co-plan a visit with the Alliance, please email Lucy Peterson (Lucy.Peterson@iphionline.org).